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New moves to protect heather uplands 30 September 2005

    THE Island’s precious heather uplands are suffering continuing damage from a minority of irresponsible motorcyclists and four-wheel drivers, DAFF Minister Phil Gawne MHK warned today (Wednesday, September 28, 2005).

    Said Mr Gawne, ‘The heather uplands of the Manx hills are one of the Island’s natural treasures, providing a fragile habitat that is rare in the whole of Europe. The Isle of Man Government has a clear duty to protect this special environment.

    ‘Sadly, previous efforts have failed to stop the uplands from being ripped up by vehicles, damage which is then aggravated by erosion. The time has come to try new measures that will hopefully prove more effective.’

    An inter-departmental working party established following a Tynwald resolution in March this year is to provide information to Members at the October sitting of practical measures towards an integrated policy to improve protection of the heather uplands.

    These include closing most upland greenway roads to motorised vehicles between October 31 and March 31 each year – the winter months when the land is most vulnerable to damage. Motorised access would be allowed for farming purposes and for events organised with Government approval.

    Mr Gawne said temporary closures had been implemented in the past, but these were often after the damage had been done, and users were confused as to which areas were open or closed.

    The Minister added that pressure on the Manx hills could increase with the introduction of more restrictions on motorised activities in uplands elsewhere in the British Isles. Damage to the Yorkshire Moors has brought about a closure of the area to vehicles for an 18 month period.

    Mr Gawne said that Government Departments had worked closely with off-road groups, jointly producing a voluntary code of practice in 2001, for example. However, this had failed to ensure protection of the uplands or observance of byelaws approved by Tynwald in February 2003.

    ‘A minority of irresponsible users, outside the organised groups, are continuing to cause problems,’ said Mr Gawne.

    The Minister confirmed that motorised vehicles would continue to have access to lowland tracks and to organised events in the Department’s forestry plantations. The upland greenways would still be open for seven months of the year.

    This subject has been monitored on the ground by the Department for several years. Meetings were held with motorcycle clubs in 2001 and an Environmental Code drafted for issue to all the clubs and retail motorcycle outlets in an attempt to provide guidance.

    The Department has enjoyed the full co-operation of the motorcycle clubs over many years. It is understood that those individuals who are seen to be causing damage on the hills are often not members of a club and, in some cases, are visitors to the Island. It is these individuals who the Department wish to reach to explain the nature of the damage they are causing. Temporary Closure Orders have proved ineffective, with motorcycles seen travelling greenway roads which are closed to the public.

    Discussions between the Department of Transport, Department of Tourism & Leisure and Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry have established the need for a greater level of resources to be allocated towards the maintenance of the Island’s greenway road. Until a sustainable balance is established between the degree of impact of traffic and the level of repairs, annual closure of the upland tracks most susceptible to damage over the winter months is seen as the only protective measure able to provide the level of environmental protection required.

    The Department has arranged for a visit to the Island by a trails advisor to a National Park in England. It is intended that this consultation will provide further guidance on how this issue may be managed, as it is exercising the minds of National Park staff throughout the U.K.

    It is intended that, in the long run, adequate resources will be directed towards a Greenway Road Maintenance Plan sufficient to lift the proposed restrictions on winter access.

    For further information, please contact the Chief Forestry Officer, Mr Robin Pollard (telephone 801263).

    30th September 2005

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